On Jordan Kretchmer's recent 31st birthday, he was on the road taking meetings in New York when he got a video message from the staff at Livefyre, the company he built. He beamed and watched it again. Then he had a moment of realization: He didn't recognize everyone in the video.
"I'm looking at it like, 'Wow!' Who is that person?' he says. "I don't even know them because they started yesterday!"
It's the scaling challenge that confronts so many around hiring employee 100: not knowing everyone's name. No longer managing all hiring. No longer being in charge of literally everything. The company culture is in a looser grasp, and all of a sudden, your company is no longer that starry-eyed upstart. It has lots of big customers to keep satisfied, and it is, well, a big company.
Kretchmer is right there. And he couldn't be more excited.
"Two years ago, I wasn't a CEO; I was just another guy running around like a chicken with his head cut off trying to get shit done and building product, launching product, selling product," he says, very much aware that he's very much a CEO today. "And now I've got a whole executive team; I've got a real CFO, I've got a real SVP of global sales."
And he's owning it. Livefyre, which calls itself the "world's largest social-curation platform," has 155 employees based in a massive, new, San Francisco office. Its product is quickly becoming one of the publishing backbones for media on the Internet; the company has built comment-management and social-media aggregation platforms for roughly 700 of the largest publishers in the world (these are enterprise customers, including AOL, Condé Nast, and CBS, that pay for customized solutions or support; anyone can use Livefyre tools for free). The company is building fascinating customized projects for brands, too: It built My Oscar Photo, which allowed at-home viewers to take photos on the red carpet, for the Academy Awards.
Paul Bricault, a Los Angeles-based venture partner at Greycroft Partners, a venture-capital firm, says he saw in Kretchmer a little bit of Jack Dorsey: the product person who also is a visionary leader and solid salesperson.
"He's the type of person who has a tremendous amount of charisma and passion for the business he's building," Bricault says. "He's both a product-focused person and has that ability to articulate that vision and sell it--the one-two punch."
Kretchmer's high school teachers might have been able to predict he'd be an entrepreneur: He repeatedly got sent to the principal's office for talking on his gray Motorola flip phone to clients of his little design business. A few years later, he was dropping out of college to work full time on the business, which he later sold.
The fundamental ideas behind Livefyre were incubated while Kretchmer worked at a creative agency and then at Current.TV, where he oversaw social strategy. That company didn't agree with Kretchmer's vision--so when he was fired, he spun that vision out into Livefyre in 2010.
Despite Kretchmer's strong sales abilities, it took him six months to close Livefyre's first big deal, with News International in the U.K., the former name of a division within News Corporation. It was a sizable, upper-six-figure deal that not only kept alive Livefyre--which was 12 people at that point--but helped prototype its product, as well as cement its customer service strategy.
Using the feedback from News International, Livefyre built out its comment-aggregation and monitoring platform over the next four months. The company now has a greater than 99 percent customer retention rate--probably a figure stemming from Kretchmer's core business philosophy: "If you bend over backwards for a customer and overdeliver for them, they will be a customer forever," he says.